Puncher in Snowmass Village racial bar fight gets jail, probation | AspenTimes.com

Puncher in Snowmass Village racial bar fight gets jail, probation

A black man who punched a local man in the face last spring after repeated racial taunting in a Snowmass Village bar was sentenced to 14 days in jail Monday after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault.

Brandon Hines, 21, of Milwaukee, also will spend a year on supervised probation, undergo an anger management evaluation and possibly have to pay restitution for medical bills incurred by the man who was hit.

"Our community absolutely does not tolerate the type of provocation you were subjected to," District Judge Chris Seldin said. "We also condemn physical violence.

"The punch, although obviously provoked, was an act of violence and that kind if assault cannot be tolerated and does deserve punishment."

Hines, who will not have to start serving the 14 days until Jan. 12, did not speak about the situation in court and declined to comment afterward. However, he spoke briefly and quietly during the plea portion of the hearing after Seldin asked him what he did to prompt the plea.

"It was out of character. … I punched someone," Hines tearfully said. "I shouldn't have done that."

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Hines was charged with felony assault in the case, but accepted a plea deal to the misdemeanor instead of going to trial. His attorney, Ryan Kalamaya, said his client wasn't sure he could get a fair shake in Aspen because of what happened to him.

Prosecutor Ben Sollars, who noted that Hines had no significant criminal history, did not ask for jail time, but did ask Seldin to include a punitive aspect to Hines' sentence. He said the doctor who treated the victim in the case — former Aspen bartender Jim Andre — reported that he "suffered serious and substantial risk of death as a result of what happened to him."

Andre, who did not attend Monday's hearing, suffered a traumatic brain injury he will have to deal with for the rest of his life, Sollars said. He incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, though his final out-of-pocket costs have not yet been determined, so any restitution Hines will have to pay will be finalized in the next three months, he said. Sollars said that another local man charged in connection to the incident — Joshua Jones — initiated contact with the then-20-year-old Hines at Zane's Tavern in Snowmass Village on the final day of the ski season in April. Jones repeatedly used racial epithets toward Hines, who knocked Jones' drink over, slapped him a few times and knocked his hat off, Sollars said.

Andre approached Hines on Jones' behalf and tried to shake his hand at one point, but Hines spit on it, Sollars said. Andre then wiped his hand on Hines' pants, which prompted the punch, he said.

Snowmass Village police reports quoted a bartender working that night as saying Andre used the N-word toward Hines. However, Sollars said that when investigators re-interviewed him, the bartender said Andre did not use the word and was trying to de-escalate the situation.

Andre allegedly dropped to the ground after he was punched, then got back up and told police and witnesses he was fine, Sollars said. He then walked outside and fell again, which caused additional head injuries, he said.

Jones has been charged with racially motivated harassment and is set to go to trial in Pitkin County Court.

Kalamaya quoted police reports as saying numerous witnesses said Andre got what he deserved. However, Snowmass Village police officers neglected to get those witnesses' names, so the claims could not be verified, he said.

The racial epithets allegedly used by Jones shocked Hines, he said.

"He'd never heard that word in that context," Kalamaya said. "He experienced the most racially offensive experience of his life in Snowmass, Colorado."

In addition, no witness ever mentioned seeing Hines spit on Andre's hand, he said. Instead, Hines "lost it" after Andre reached around Hines' two white friends in the bar and touched his arm, Kalamaya said.

Hines was not drunk that evening, did not use fake identification at the bar and was eating chicken wings at the time, he said. Andre and Jones, however, were drunk, Kalamaya said, while Andre later tested positive for cocaine at Aspen Valley Hospital.

Further, Andre didn't suffer serious head injuries after he fell inside the bar, he said. That occurred outside the bar when he was with Snowmass Village police officers and fell and cracked his head on the concrete, Kalamaya said.

"There's no evidence my client's punch fractured (Andre's) skull," he said. "He disputes that he caused serious bodily injury."

Andre's attorney in Wyoming offered no comment in an email Monday evening.

jauslander@aspentimes.com